Saturday, June 24, 2017

Thoughts on What Went Wrong Part 1: The Numbers

This season's faceplant has left Giants fans scratching their heads wondering what they are witnessing.  The core of players who led the Giants to 3 World Series Championships in 5 years in the first half of the decade remains largely intact with most players in the prime of their careers.  A down 2015 could be blamed on the odd year jinx and the every other year post-celebration hangover.  2016 looked like it might be the year they set records with a 4-peat of the even year magic, only to see it ruined by a massive bullpen failure.

With the bullpen fixed by the addition of Mark Melancon, for a very big price, 2017 looked like a season in which the Giants might start a run of odd year magic.  What happened instead was a faceplant of historic proportions.  The team, by preseason projections which are known to be generally both accurate and conservative, was supposed to win between 86 and 90 games and contend for playoff spot and possible championship.  Optimistic scenarios had them as high as 94-96 Wins.  Instead, they have stumbled and crawled to a 27-49 record.

What has Giants fans concerned, and rightly so, is this season was headed south long before Madison Bumgarner took his fateful ride in Colorado.  Maybe if you squinted hard, you could see some early signs of a turnaround, but even with a fully healthy Bumgarner, it would have taken an historic comeback to overcome that start.  While there have been a few strong performances by individual players, the failure is broad based and accomplished with a core the Giants appear to be locked into for the remainder of the decade through a series of longterm contract extensions.

I have wanted to write a post or series of posts on the great collapse for awhile now.  It's not an easy topic to tackle because there does not appear to be a single cause or simple solution.  I thought some basic numbers might be a good place to start.  We are now within 5 games of the mathematical mid-point of the season.  I went into the Fangraphs Projections section and looked up the pre-season ZIPS projections for the Giants, then divided by 2 to get the first half zWAR projection for each player.  I then subtracted their current season fWAR to find the variance.  Here is what I found(listed are player- Season Projected zWAR/2, Season To Date fWAR, Projected zWAR/2-fWAR Variance)(Disclaimer:  Dan Szymborski, creator of ZIPS, warns against a adding up individual zWARs and using that to calculate a projected team win total; zWAR and fWAR may not be comparable so this is all a rough estimate of relative player performance compared to expected):

Preseason Projected Roster- Batters

Buster Posey- 2.1, 2.8, +0.7.
Brandon Crawford- 1.7, 0.8, -0.9.
Brandon Belt- 1.4, 1.0, -0.4.
Joe Panik- 1.0, 1.1, +0.1.
Eduardo Nunez- 0.9, 1.0, +0.1.
Hunter Pence- 0.9, 0.2, -0.7.
Denard Span- 0.5, 0.9, +0.4.
Jarrett Parker- 0.5, -0.1, -0.6.
Gorkys Hernandez- 0.4, -0.3, -0.7.
Kelby Tomlinson-0.2, 0.0, -0.2.
Conor Gillaspie-0.1, -0.4, -0.5.
Nick Hundley- 0.2, -0.1, -0.3.

As you can see, Buster Posey and Denard Span have been the top over-performers while there are multiple under-performers the worst one being, surprisingly, Brandon Crawford.

Preseason Projected Roster- Pitchers

Madison Bumgarner- 2.5, 0.9, -1.6.
Johny Cueto- 2.0, 0.8, -1.2.
Jeff Samardzija- 1.6, 1.9, +0.3.
Matt Moore- 0.7, 0.7, 0.0.
Ty Blach- 0.7, 0.9, +0.2.
Mark Melancon- 0.4, 0.1, -0.3.
Will Smith- 0.4, DNP, DNP.
Hunter Strickland- 0.3, 0.7, +0.4.
Matt Cain- 0.3, 0.1, -0.2.
Derek Law- 0.1, -0.2, -0.3.
Steven Okert- 0.2, 0.0, -0.2.
George Kontos- 0.1, 0.2, +0.1.
Cory Gearrin- 0.05, 0.1, +0.05.

The injury to Bumgarner and underperformance by Johnny Cueto appear to be the two biggest factors in the Giants collapse but there is plenty of blame to go around.

Here is a list of fWARs accumulated by miscellaneous fill-in players who were not projected to make the Opening Day Roster:

Austin Slater- +0.5.
Michael Morse- -0.1.
Mac Williamson- -0.2.
Orlando Calixte- -0.3.
Aaron Hill- -0.4.
Drew Stubbs- -0.4.
Chris Marrero- -0.6.
Justin Ruggiano- -0.6.
Christian Arroyo- -0.6.

Of all the attempts by the Giants to fill holes/apply bandaids, Austin Slater is the only one who has delivered a positive fWAR balance.  All the others were a negative whether washed up veterans, AAAA players or highly touted prospects.

A Dan Szymborski comment in the discussion of his Giants ZIPS posting on Fangraphs was most interesting in retrospect:  "Overal, the position-player side of things appears to be well suited to AVOIDING THE AWFUL."(the last 3 words were bolded in his original comment).  There was also no indication of major concerns for the pitching or the depth.  Well, awful they have been.  While perhaps none have been individually awful, the cumulative effect of a broad-based underperformance resulted in a collective awful.  How and why did this occur?  I don't know but I have some thoughts which I will share in future posts.


  1. Dr.B, I'm not familiar with stats. like you are,I also thought that with the the addition of Melancon that the Giants should do much better than last year conveniently forgetting how bad they fell during the second half of last year after a near spectacular first half which couldn't all be blamed on our closer at the time Santiago Casilla , so easiest explanation is the rest of the team are not living up to expectations, along with luck, injuries, bad management choices. Maybe it's time for a major reorganization with a change in management and more youth on the player side.

    1. I'll have more to say on this in another post, but I'll just add that the little guys can make or break you and don't ignore WAR fractions. You need to get at least replacement value from your bench. If look at the WAR's of the bench players and guys how have shuttled in and out as fill-ins, every single one outside of Austin Slater has put up a negative WAR and they add up. In the Giants case it's been a -4.9 which is huge in a half season. Projected to a full season, that's a 10 game difference wins. In other words, the Bench alone can be the difference between a 90 Win season and a 80 Win season.

    2. Clarification: I used fWAR for the fill-ins and variance for the projected bench guys.

  2. My thoughts are that it's been a **** storm with multiple causes. In fact, I'd say there's not an area/position on the team where there hasn't been something major go wrong (directly or indirectly) for significant stretches of time except catcher. Posey and Hundley are doing great.

    1. See my reply to rdon53 above. You add a couple of key injuries to a bad bench and there's your ****storm.

  3. Good luck on this topic! Should be interesting reading. I'll be interested on your take on how to fix this, tear it down or reload? These big long term contracts they have won't make it easy to trade before the deadline.


  4. What is done is done but going forward someone will need to pay for this mess. Who will be the scapegoat and wear this one other than all the players who have already been DFA'd? At some point someone in management needs to jump (or be thrown) on the grenade. Is it Bobby Evans fault since he didn't pull the trigger last year and trade Law for Melancon and then swung and missed this offseason? Is it Bochy's fault for getting older and running out of ways to shuffle lineups and pulling strings in the bullpen? Is it Sabean's fault for not changing his philosophy of spending all of their money on pitching and long term deals for our homegrown "talent"? Or is it Larry Baer's fault for creating the culture that has now become a culture of losing all the while charging his fans up the rear end for tickets?

    Bobby could have made better decisions in hindsight (always 20-20) and instead of signing Thames or Desmond and Holland he decided to dump 60 million on Melancon and then a bunch of has beens who have all washed out (trying to catch lightning in a bottle way too many times). Probably wouldn't have made a difference but after the decision to keep Law last year instead of trading him for Melancon maybe he has shown he isn't cut out to be the GM.

    Bochy hasn't made a single good decision this year. Hard to blame him for the lack of talent but how about the lack of focus and motivation? Either way he looks old and tired and maybe he wants out of this mess as well?

    Sabean hasn't changed his philosophy since the Giants have been at AT&T doing nothing but drafting offensive players with the "hit tool" and defense and not much else. Overspend for pitching and underspend for bats since according to him, no bats want to come here! If that's true than why not go the route of the Dodgers and load up on cheap pitching and then overspend to get bats here?

    Then there is Larry Baer. This is going to sound ridiculous but I would start with firing him. This team needs a shake up and he is the president of this incredible mess. This to me goes way deeper than talent or coaching, it is a culture that has been created by him that has now turned in to one of the saddest excuses for a ballclub in all of the major leagues. This isn't going to fix this year or next or even the year after that but there is little that is going to change the direction this team has gone in and sometimes you need to start fresh at the top and build it back up.

    1. Wow! Did you maybe cut and paste this from 2008?

  5. Given that the core looks so worn out, everyone is expendable IF value is received except the rookies (Slater, Arroyo, Ryder) or high value prospects (Shaw, Gregorio, Suarez, Gomez, Howard, Reynolds, Quinn, Carbonell, and probably some other hidden treasures)
    Least trade-able order for current 40-man roster:
    although, toward the end of this list, prospects might suffice.

    1. Who is the core and do they look worn out? Posey is having a great year. Bumgarner had an injury that had nothing to do with baseball. Crawford and Belt are having down years but I don't think either is because of age or mileage. Is Panik a core player? He's gotten his numbers up above his projections with a tremendous June. Cueto was always a rental player. Samardzija is having a good season.

      Cain was a core player but is nearing the end of his career, at least with the Giants as is Hunter Pence.

      Sure, anyone can be traded as you say IF value is received. Who on this roster are they likely to get value for?

  6. Well, to my old and cataract ridden eyes, the Giants don't seem to care nor are they succeeding on the offense when they have runners to score nor pitching when they only need a stop nor fielding when the need a play, not a muff.
    Nor do I think, at 78 games, is it bad luck - it is plainly bad baseball -- by either a bad team or a tired out team.
    They are thinking failure, not success, and Posey's super year is nearly bereft of key hits, Panik is too little too late, Pence and Span have nothing to do with winning in the future, and for $19.8 million a year, Samardzija is NOT having a good year!
    Crawford may come back -- .250 is good enough for his glove -- but he is not a top of the order guy! Belt has his fans, but do the Giants need Gumpy? Hundley can be the best backup catcher in baseball (he is decidedly NOT), but he makes no difference. None.
    Cueto is Cueto, he is up, he is down, but most of the time would be winning with an offense that wasn't flat broken.
    Your "Sure, anyone can be traded as you say IF value is received" is gratuitous and misses the point. The players listed might be kept unless something better is offered with less required as you move down the line, but no one, not even the unctuous Buster is needed to lose 106 games! This team is beyond bad -- it is broken!
    This is the WORST team in baseball, so get what you can for the over 30 because they aren't going to help by the time the youth is in.
    I enjoy your blog and you're analysis, but you sometimes run off the road. Your response to be is not thought out.